Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Couple of Tricks for Writing Fight Scenes

The other day I saw a blog post with that title and, because I do write fight scenes, I clicked on it—you never know when you might learn something. It was disappointing because the author went on and on about how unpleasant they were to write and finally concluded that writers just had to do their best because it was very difficult to do. Why did someone feel the need to even write that post?

For my fight scenes I have always found it easiest to think of them in terms of choreography. If you have ever taken dance classes, or studied something like Tai Chi (I've done both) it is easier to understand. It's all about balance until it isn't, and once it isn't, the fight is usually over.

Some years back I read advice by a writer I respect (whose name I have since forgotten) who said, when a fight begins, find a way to step back and slow it down. I have found this to be particularly useful advice—in the midst of the violence, pull back, write about something else, let the reader breathe. Then—BAM!—bring it home. In the following scene from The Old Mermaid's Tale, a young woman is in a bar with a man she is falling in love with when another man grabs her and tries to kiss her.

Suddenly, as quickly as he had moved on me, he flew backwards out of my reach and slammed into one of the rough timber posts along the bar. An enormous hand gripped his jaw, the veins of it popping out in thick, blue rivers. The guy kicked feet that were inches above the floor and struggled for breath. His mouth was moving but only strangled gasps escaped. A large body moved between us and I scarcely recognized Baptiste’s face as he brought it close to that of the man he held dangling in his grasp. His features—those features I so loved—twisted beyond recognition in a raging fury that froze me and I could see the gleam of his teeth bared in a snarl as he moved his face closer to that of the man he held pinioned against the post.

Baptiste,” I screamed, grabbing his arm, “don’t.”

As frightened as I was by the guy’s attack I was far more frightened by what was happening now. The words he had said last night in the erotic mystique of the castle conservatory—‘you don’t know the kind of man I am capable of being’—seared through my brain. ‘A dark angel’, he had said, ‘for you I am a dark angel’. Now his darkness enveloped him and left me powerless. I tore at his arm but he shook me off without a glance. Baptiste’s face was inches from that of the terrified mariner whose eyes were bulging from a face that was turning darker by the second. He was saying something in a language I didn’t recognize to the guy who was struggling and growing weaker. I lunged at him a second time trying to grasp his arm but he shifted his weight blocking me as he leaned into his prey.

Please, Baptiste” I was screaming. “Please.” In a split-second Nat vaulted over the bar and shoved me aside.

As you can see, in the underlined part, Clair takes us momentarily out of the action with her reminiscence of the previous evening's event. Then the action resumes. Such a passage acts as a rest in music—it lets one relax and then the crescendo becomes more intense.

One of my favorite characters in all my books is Viv Lang, the heroine of 3 of my Crazy Old Lady books. Viv is a fragile woman with not a lot of self-esteem but she is fiercely loyal and she's also a deadly martial artist. This scene is from The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge.

Sirens screamed into the street below. There was a crash as the front door shattered. I heard the sounds of people running; Lindgren turned toward me. It was only then that I saw the gun.

No, Viv!” Joe grabbed my arms and twisted me around, blocking me from Lindgren with his body. Two blasts exploded in the small room. Joe looked startled, staggered slightly, and fell forward.

Joe!” I tried to break his fall. When I looked up, Lindgren aimed his gun at me.

For close to fifteen years I had studied martial arts and fighting, always wondering if I'd ever be able to inflict damage on an opponent if I had to. Fighting in a gym was one thing but fighting in the face of danger seemed quite another. But my body had none of the reservations that my brain had. Before Lindgren could get off another shot, I leaped forward, kicking him square in the chest with one foot while bringing my bent elbow down, sharp and precise, directly onto his windpipe. His scream was stifled by collapsing cartilage. Blood gushed from his mouth. I spun, wrapping my legs around his neck, bringing him to the floor.

By stepping back and reflecting on her doubts about her own abilities, Viv does the same thing—she slows the tension down, then slams it home.

Naturally there is a lot more to writing fights than what I've written here but this as good a place to start as any. Try it and see if it works for you.

Thanks for reading.

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